Spartan Endurance‘s 12 Hour Hurricane Heat, or HH12HR, is a 12-hour endurance event that combines team exercises and challenges with individual competition and time hacks to push physical limits and test participant’s True North.
One of the draws of the HH12HR is the originality of each event. This is due, in part, to Spartan’s Director of Endurance, Tony Matesi, allowing his Spartan Krypteia (“krypteia” is “teacher/leader” or “advisor”) to determine his/her event’s theme and gear list that has one or two specialty items included. These items range from three peanuts attached to a green stick to a bath towel to a sandbag.
For Seattle, the gear list included two polypropylene sandbags and one dodge ball. Planning doesn’t mean that it’s going to go exactly as you envision; it just means that out of the ether, you have managed to take your creative vision and apply a structure to it so that it can exist. The greatest gift is when others take your structure and build upon it, to have it grow organically and to create something unique and awe-inspiring that you may not have ever dreamed of. Seattle HH12HR-018 was one of those events.
Tony had a vision and expectation of the event, and it was my job to help him realize that vision. I was also brought on to provide my specialized brand of teamwork and crew cohesion exercises that I routinely implement with some sort of innocuous household item. Typically, it becomes a quiet debate among the participants about how I’m going to use that item, which is good; teamwork starts here.
Wednesday before the event, Tony outlined the event structure to me and we discussed logistics. Much of the first day is on site scouting, and Tony had a grueling event laid out for Seattle. Anytime you bring two sandbags into play, you know that people are going to have to dig incredibly deep, and with the Cliff Climb as the centerpiece of his masterwork, we expected a high fail rate. His format was a checkpoint challenge. Five separate item locations dispersed among the Spartan Seattle Super course: three separate locations had additional sandbags as items and the last two were going to be straight up sprinting to get a punch card stamped at their respective locations. Each item had to be brought back to Home Base to be numbered, valued and counted in the record sheet by Tony or myself, and the punch card had to have the corresponding hole punch for each location on it. Lose your card, you’re DQ’d. Don’t get the right hole punch, you’re DQ’d. Lose any sand from your sandbags or they get destroyed, you’re DQ’d. Paying attention is vital.
Friday night arrives and Class 018 is the first class in the history of the HH12HR to have 100% of the registrants show up and participate. After the standard check in process, gear check, and introductions, the class began its warm up with three games of Spartan Dodgeball.
With rucks on, participants had to bear crawl to the center line to get the balls and crab walk back to the back line before standing up and beginning to throw. Slow crab walkers were easy targets. Losers did exercises, winners rested. From dodge ball, the class retrieved Tony’s “Caterpillar”: a series of five GoRuck sandbags ranging from 20 pounds to 120 pounds that were connected end to end by carabiners. The class was instructed to take the Caterpillar with them as we continued the warm up. I liked this carry because unlike a log that has no give and allows shorter people to escape the load, connected sandbags have a ton of give and shift and move.
A little over a mile later, the Caterpillar was set to rest on the side of the trail and Balls of Fun began. A set of exercises that promotes teamwork using the dodge balls. I learned long ago while training firefighters that the best way to CREATE an atmosphere of teamwork is to provide exercises that REQUIRE teamwork, and it doesn’t have to be soul crushing to get the job done. It can be challenging and fun and still be effective.
At this point, Tony brought the class to the quarry and gave the instructions to fill the gear list sandbags up to the 3/4 mark, secure them so no sand escaped, make sure that they remained intact for the rest of the event, and that it would be in their individual team’s best interest to arrive back at Home Base first.
Things did not go according to our original plan, and as one, the class decided to tackle the Cliff Climb as a single unit, melding “I will always place the mission first” with “I will never leave a fallen comrade”. This is what it looks like when everyone is invested in the success of everyone and not just everyone out for themselves. The individual truly becomes an integral part of something greater than self. And I was inspired.
We have the Warrior’s Ethos for a reason, and it is within those four ethics that an individual may choose what he/she finds to most resonate with himself/herself, and if one implements the entire ethos, one will find success. For those who have done a HH12HR that I have been involved in, you all know that there are a few things that I continuously, sonorously, maddeningly recite over and over again. Maybe you drown it out; maybe you listen, 0r maybe you listen, and as a class, implement everything with an understanding of the end objective and the message that I am trying to convey.
I have never seen an entire class take ownership of their responsibilities as teammates and objectives like I saw Class 018. Their actions were a true representation of 24 individuals on the same mission, same objectives and goals, and with a clear vision as to how they were all going to achieve success: self-sacrifice, individual motivations, partnership, teamwork to ensure personal successes. No one can accurately describe that two sandbag ascent up sheer cliffs by using ropes and creating footing in the hard slick mud, or having run 14 of the 20 total miles of the event under additional weight. The body language of nearly every participant told a story as each came limping, walking, stumbling back to Home Base with first, second, and third sandbags.
Finishing everything off with two separate run challenges with stoking the fire interspersed between everything else. Yes, forgot to mention that. We had a campfire that had to be kept lit throughout the night and it was the class’ responsibility to make that happen. PT, hacks, challenges, whatever. They had to forage for dry wood and run back and forth from wherever they were to Home Base to keep the fire lit. Had that fire gone out, I’m confident that the finish rate would have been very close to zero.
And this is not the first time that a finish rate for a class has been higher than 40%. Just as there have been classes that have dropped to nearly single digit percentages. High and low percentages are anomalous, as there is a general 40% finish that is stated quite clearly from the outset. It’s not a secret, but it’s not set in stone, either. Be less concerned with percentages and more concerned with the tasks and challenges that must be endured to finish, and Tony made sure that this event was, pardon my language, fucking miserably difficult.
At the 11th hour, we had our finishers, and we were satisfied knowing that we had provided a tough event. We had one final time hack, a volunteer one, and after a brief discussion, we decided to present it to our finishers: as a team, retrieve the Caterpillar and return back to Home Base before time expires.
Success would provide their lagging teammates with a precious few minutes. Failure would, quite possibly, mean no one would finish. Two more miles of running and hiking after they had given their all for 11 hours, and they loudly rose up to the task and took off, only to return carrying the Caterpillar and chanting the Warrior’s Ethos with time to spare, thus extending the final time hack, which saw the rest of the participants check in. For one of the grittiest, toughest HH12HRs, the finisher count belies the heavy difficulty of the event, but in the manner of how it all shaped up from the very beginning, it seems only fitting that this class had the finish that they worked so hard to earn.
As one, I am an individual with limitations. As one, we are invincible.
Photo Credits: Ben Greenfield, Jessica Renon
He can be found on the weekends exercising and exorcising his demons on the OCR course and in endurance events.